LATROBE (KDKA) - There has been debate over whether police should be required to wear cameras and if they do, how the video should be regulated.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the matter Wednesday in the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Wednesday's hearing by the House Judiciary Committee was essentially focusing on body cameras worn by police officers. They took input from law enforcement, law professors and civil right groups on what they'd like to see in a new law regarding police wearing body cameras.
They are the newest tool at law enforcement's disposal: body cameras, capturing everything an officer sees from a young person with a fake ID to the high drama of a police officer taking down a robbery suspect. Pennsylvania has Act 9, which allows police officers to use body cameras, but prosecutors say it has huge drawbacks.
For example, if an officer wears a camera into a private residence, he commits a felony. As it stands, that alone is a violation of wire-tapping laws. Another issue: who gets the video? Is it released when asked for by the media or other groups under right-to-know laws? Or is it like all evidence, available only after being entered into evidence at a hearing or trial?
"If these videos come out pre-trial and they're released with a right-to-know request, it can really taint the jury pool we're looking to pick from," Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said.
Testifying Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union. They are in favor of body cameras on police officers, but they make clear the officer wearing the camera should have little control as to whether it's on or off.
"The reason for this is that if police officers are given discretion over when to activate the body cameras, the value of those cameras will be severely undermined," Sarah Rose with the ACLU Pennsylvania said. "They will end up being harmful, not helpful, if they become a tool for capturing only video that the police want the public to see."
And where to store all the video from the body cameras? With multiple officers responding to the same call, all with cameras on, a small department may not have the money or space to store what could amount to massive volumes of data for one case.
Wednesday's was just one of many hearings relative to the question of what new aspects of the body camera law will be enacted.
Last week, Pittsburgh Police released a synopsis of their body camera policies.
There are 125 officers who wear body cameras. When it is reasonable and safe to do so, they record the following:
- Traffic and criminal stops
- Vehicles and crimes code violations
- Vehicle pursuits
- Fatal crash or major crime scenes
- DUI stops and standardized field sobriety tests
- Pat downs
- Asking for consent to execute search warrants
- Search incident to arrest
Additionally, officers do not use the cameras until they have been trained to do so.
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